Ulysses S. Grant

April 27, 1822–July 23, 1885

Ulysses S. Grant was an American military and political leader who rose from humble beginnings to become general-in-chief of Union forces during the Civil War and, afterward, the eighteenth President of the United States.

Ulysses S Grant, at Cold Harbor, Portrait

Ulysses S. Grant rose from humble beginnings to become General-in-Chief of Union forces during the Civil War and, afterward, the eighteenth President of the United States. [Wikimedia Commons]

Ulysses S. Grant Biography

Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1869 to 1877. He was a Union general during the American Civil War and was known for his success in leading the North to victory. As president, Grant was committed to rebuilding the country after the war and to protecting the rights of African Americans in the South. However, his presidency was marked by corruption and scandal, particularly within his administration, and he is often criticized for his lack of political experience and poor judgment in choosing advisors.

Quick Facts About Ulysses S. Grant

  • Date of Birth: Ulysses S. Grant was born on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio.
  • Parents: Grant’s parents were Jesse and Hannah (Simpson) Grant.
  • Date of Death: Grant died on July 23, 1885, at age 63, in a cottage on Mount McGregor in Saratoga County, New York.
  • Buried: Grant is buried in the General Grant National Memorial, also known as “Grant’s Tomb”, in New York City.
  • Nickname: Grant’s nicknames were “Unconditional Surrender Grant,” “Uncle Sam,” and, “U.S. Grant.”

Early Life

Ulysses Simpson Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio. His parents, Jesse and Hannah (Simpson) Grant, christened Hiram Ulysses Grant. In 1823, his family moved to Georgetown, Ohio. Grant attended public school in Georgetown, and the school of Richeson and Rand at Maysville, Kentucky (1836–1838), and the Presbyterian Academy at Ripley, Ohio (1838–1839). As a youth, Grant also worked at his father’s tannery, although he disliked the job.

U.S. Military Academy Cadet

In 1838, New York Congressman Thomas L. Harvey nominated Grant for an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Grant did not want to attend the academy, but his father insisted. When Grant arrived at West Point in 1839, he discovered Harvey had mistakenly listed his name on the application as Ulysses Simpson Grant. Grant adopted the name Ulysses S. Grant and insisted throughout his life that the initial “S” stood for nothing. While at West Point, he received the nickname, U.S. Grant.

U.S. Army Officer

Grant graduated from West Point on June 23, 1843, ranked twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine cadets. Army officials commissioned Grants as a brevet second lieutenant on July 1, 1843, and ordered him to report to the 4th U.S. Infantry at Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, Missouri on September 30. While stationed at Jefferson Barracks, Grant often visited the home of his West Point roommate, Frederick Dent, near St. Louis. There he met and fell in love with Dent’s sister, Julia. The couple became secretly engaged in 1844, but they did not marry until August 22, 1848, after Grant returned from the Mexican-American War.

Mexican-American War

In June 1844, the army sent Grant and the 4th Infantry to Natchitoches, Louisiana. In September 1845, they sailed from New Orleans, bound for Corpus Christi, Texas, where a border dispute was brewing between the United States and Mexico. On March 11, 1846, forces serving under General Zachary Taylor invaded the disputed territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, prompting Mexico to declare war on April 23. Grant served as a quartermaster throughout the Mexican-American War, experiencing some combat at Palo Alto, Monterey, Molino del Rey, and San Cosme Garita.

Marriage and Antebellum Service

When the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, Grant returned to St. Louis and married Julia. On November 17, 1848, the army ordered him to Detroit, Michigan. Grant spent the next four years with Julia in Michigan and other more easterly posts, but in 1852, the army ordered west. Grant arrived at Fort Vancouver, Washington on September 20, 1852, unhappy about being separated from his family. With no prospect of reunion in sight, fellow officers reported Grant turned to alcohol to console himself. On September 30, 1853, Grant received notice that the army had promoted him to captain and ordered him to report to Fort Humboldt, California. After another lonely winter, Grant received his official commission as captain on April 11, 1854. He wrote a letter of resignation from the army on the same day. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America, accepted the letter of resignation.

Civilian Life

In 1854, Grant returned to St. Louis and reunited with his family. As a civilian, he first tried his hand as a farmer on the Dent family land. Appropriately, Grant named his farm “Hardscrabble.” Despite working hard, the farm provided little. From 1858 to 1859, Grant went into the real estate business with his wife’s cousin. During that period, Grant freed his one slave, William Jones, who was given to him by the Dent family. When the real estate venture failed, Grant moved to Galena, Illinois, in May 1860. There, he became a clerk in his father’s leather store.

Civil War Career

After the Battle of Fort Sumter (April 12–13, 1861)touched off the American Civil War, Grant volunteered for military duty. In June, he visited General George McClellan’s headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, but McClellan refused to see him. On June 15, he returned to Galena and accepted an appointment as a colonel in the Illinois militia. On July 31, at the urging of several Illinois congressmen, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln submitted a request to Congress to commission Grant as a brigadier general in the volunteer army, retroactively to May 17, 1861. Congress approved Lincoln’s request on August 9. On September 1, Western Department Commander Major General John C. Frémont selected Grant to command the District of Southeast Missouri, and Grant established his headquarters at Cairo, Illinois.

Grant’s first Civil War action took place in Missouri at the inconclusive Battle of Belmont (November 7, 1861). Grant intended to attack a Confederate force commanded by Brigadier General Gideon J. Pillow, which had invaded Kentucky. As he approached the Confederate forces from Cairo, Grant learned Pillow had crossed the Mississippi River to Belmont, Missouri. Grant attacked there instead and initially drove the Confederates back. The Confederates rallied against Grant’s undisciplined soldiers after being reinforced. The battle ended when the Federals withdrew, with neither side proving much.

Capture of Fort Donelson and Fort Henry

By late 1861, President Lincoln was pressuring Union commanders in the west to invade the South. On December 20, 1861, Major General Henry W. Halleck issued Special Orders, No. 78 (Department of the Missouri) placing Grant in command of the reconfigured District of Cairo.

On January 30, 1862, Halleck reluctantly approved Grant’s request to attack Fort Henry on the eastern bank of the Tennessee River just south of the Tennessee-Kentucky border. Grant left Cairo, Illinois on February 2, with 15,000 soldiers, plus a flotilla of seven gunboats commanded by United States Navy Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote. On February 4 and 5, Grant landed his force in two locations near Fort Henry and prepared for battle.

Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman realized he had little chance of defending Fort Henry against Grant’s sizable force. On February 5, Tilghman sent most of the occupants of Fort Henry to Fort Donelson, twelve miles to the east, leaving behind only a handful of artillerymen to defend the fort. By February 6, Foote’s flotilla maneuvered into position and began bombarding the fort. Seventy-five minutes later, Tilghman surrendered, ending the Battle of Fort Henry.

Following the surrender of Fort Henry, Grant turned his attention toward investing Fort Donelson, located on a hill on the west bank of the Cumberland River just south of the Tennessee-Kentucky border. Grant marched his army toward the Cumberland River on February 12 and 13. After traversing the twelve-mile span between the two forts, Grant positioned his troops in a semi-circle around the western side of Fort Donelson. On February 14, Foote’s flotilla traveled up the Cumberland River and attempted to reduce the fort with naval gunfire from the eastern side. The bombardment proved ineffective, however, because the Confederates held a higher position. Eventually, the Confederate fire forced Foote’s gunboats to withdraw, setting the stage for a land engagement.

On the morning of February 15, Confederate troops surged out of the fort, attacking the Union right flank. The Federals fell back in an orderly retreat. Grant ordered a counterattack on the left, forcing the Confederates back into a defensive position. By nightfall, the Yankees had reclaimed much of the ground that they had lost in the morning.

During the night, the Confederate commanders determined their situation was hopeless. The Federals awoke the next morning, surprised to see white flags of truce flying over Fort Donelson. The fort’s commander, Simon B. Buckner, requested an armistice and asked Grant for his terms of surrender. Grant replied that,

No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.

Buckner had reason to believe that Grant would be more generous because of their personal relationship in the Union Army before the war. Nevertheless, he capitulated to what he termed Grant’s “ungenerous and unchivalrous terms.” In the battle’s aftermath, “Unconditional Surrender” Grant became an instant celebrity, earning him a promotion to major general of volunteers.

During the Battle of Fort Donelson, Halleck issued General Orders, No. 37 (Department of the Missouri) on February 14, 1862, assigning Grant to command of the newly created District of West Tennessee.

Battle of Shiloh

The fall of forts Henry and Donelson were serious blows to the Confederacy. The losses forced General Albert Sidney Johnston, the commander of Confederate forces in the West, to abandon Kentucky and solidify his position deeper in Tennessee. The fall of the two forts also provided the Federals with two major waterways in the West from which to launch an invasion of the South.

Halleck ordered Grant to march his army south to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, near the Tennessee-Mississippi border, to await General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio. Halleck’s intention was to merge the two armies and then move south to cut the Memphis & Charleston Railroad line at Corinth, Mississippi.

By early April, Grant’s army of nearly 50,000 men encamped along the western side of the Tennessee River near Pittsburg Landing. Not believing that Johnston’s army was within striking distance, Grant used the time awaiting Buell’s arrival to drill his troops rather than construct defensive fortifications.

Johnston took advantage of Grant’s laxity. Rather than waiting to confront the combined Union armies at Corinth, Johnston launched a surprise attack on Grant’s exposed soldiers on the morning of April 6, 1862. In the ensuing confusion, many of the federal troops fled in panic. Others re-formed battle lines and mounted some resistance, but the Confederates gradually drove the Yankees back to a defensive position behind Shiloh Church.

As the Confederates pressed their advance, Union soldiers made a stand at a position, since popularized as the “Hornet’s Nest,” near a road now known as the “Sunken Road.” Although the Confederates killed or captured many of the Federals, the Yankees’ seven-hour standoff bought valuable time for Grant to reorganize his men and establish a final defensive line. During the fighting, Union soldiers mortally wounded General Johnston, and General P. G. T. Beauregard assumed command of the Confederate forces.

When the Battle of Shiloh began, Grant was about ten miles downriver at Savannah, Tennessee, nursing a swollen ankle, which had him on crutches, from a horse-fall the day before. Upon hearing the sounds of the battle, Grant rushed to the scene, arriving about 8:30 a.m., and began re-establishing order amongst his troops. As the first day of the battle concluded, the Confederate advance had spent itself, and Grant had set up a defensive line near the river.

Beauregard attempted a final assault during the early evening, which the Federals repulsed. At that point, Beauregard called off the attack. That night, the overly confident Confederate general sent a telegram to Confederate President Jefferson Davis proclaiming “A complete victory.” Beauregard went to bed expecting to drive Grant’s army across the Tennessee River the next day. Grant, however, had established a strong position, and reinforcements from Buell’s army arrived as Beauregard slept.

The size of the two armies engaged at the Battle of Shiloh was about equal on the first day. When Beauregard awoke on the second day, the Yankees had him outnumbered. On the morning of April 7, 1862, to Beauregard’s surprise, Grant and Buell launched a counterattack that drove the Confederates back.

Despite several attempts to counterattack, the Confederates gradually lost the ground that they had captured the previous day. Eventually, Beauregard knew he had lost, and he began an orderly retreat to Corinth. To Buell’s dismay, Grant chose not to pursue the retreating Confederates. Except for a short cavalry encounter at a place called Fallen Timbers on April 8, the Battle of Shiloh had ended.

Relieved of Command

Although the Army of the Tennessee prevailed at the Battle of Shiloh, the Northern press blamed Grant for being surprised by Johnston’s attack. Rumors circulated Grant was drunk as Confederates bayoneted Union soldiers in their tents as they slept. After two weeks of criticism, Halleck reacted. On April 28, 1862, he issued Special Orders, No. 31 (Department of the Mississippi). The dispatch merged the Army of the Tennessee, the Army of the Ohio, and the Army of the Mississippi to form one large army comprising three corps commanded by Halleck. Two days later, Halleck issued Special Field Orders, No. 35, which transferred Major General George H. Thomas from the Army of the Ohio to command the Army of the Tennessee. Although Grant lost his field command, he kept command of the District of West Tennessee. To ease the sting, Halleck nominally “promoted” Grant to his second-in-command.

Siege of Corinth

On April 29, 1862, Halleck dispatched his army from Pittsburg and Hamberg Landings in three wings toward Corinth. It took Halleck’s army one month to traverse the twenty-two miles to Corinth. Cautious by nature and still smarting from the Confederate surprise attack at Shiloh, Halleck insisted his soldiers dig new defensive trenches each time they moved to a new position. By May 25, after traveling only five miles in three weeks, Halleck was close enough to Corinth to shell the Confederate defenses and lay siege to the town.

Inside the town, the Confederates were running out of water, and nearly 20,000 of them suffered from wounds, dysentery, and typhoid. On May 29, Beauregard began evacuating his sick and wounded soldiers and withdrawing his supplies. When Union soldiers approached the Confederate fortifications on the morning of May 30, they found them undefended.

Although it took Halleck over one month to capture Corinth, he did so with very little bloodshed. That fact was not lost upon Halleck’s men, many of whom had taken part in the bloodbath at Shiloh and who expected the same at Corinth.

Grant’s Command Restored

Ten days after his triumph at Corinth, Halleck dismantled the large army he had created. On June 10, 1862, he issued Special Field Orders, No. 90, (Department of the Mississippi) revoking Special Field Orders, No. 31. The directive stated that,

The order dividing the army near Corinth into right wing, center, left wing, and reserve is hereby revoked. Major-Generals Grant, Buell, and Pope will resume the command of their separate army corps, except the division of Major-General Thomas, which, till further orders, will be stationed in Corinth as a part of the Army of the Tennessee.

Although Beauregard’s army escaped to fight another day, the Northern press and the Lincoln administration celebrated the Union victory. On July 11, President Lincoln summoned Halleck to Washington and placed him in charge of all federal armies, hoping he might duplicate his success on a larger stage. Before departing, Halleck issued Special Orders, No. 161 (Department of the Mississippi), which expanded Grant’s responsibilities as commander of the District of West Tennessee, to “include the Districts of Cairo and Mississippi; that part of the State of Mississippi occupied by our troops, and that part of Alabama which may be occupied by the troops of his particular command, including the forces heretofore known as the Army of the Mississippi.” For the next few months, Grant deployed his troops to secure Union inroads made into Tennessee and Mississippi earlier in the year.

On October 16, 1862, the War Department issued General Orders No. 159, creating the Department of Tennessee and placing Grant in command of the new department. Although still not officially designated the Army of the Tennessee, the informal handle for Grant’s forces was now more closely aligned with the actual name of his command.

Vicksburg Campaign

With two of the three main rivers connecting the North and South in the Western Theater under Union control, Grant turned his attention to Vicksburg, Mississippi. Known as “The Gibraltar of the Confederacy” because of its location on a high bluff overlooking a horseshoe-shaped bend on the Mississippi River, Vicksburg was key to controlling traffic on the Mississippi River. Grant resolved to capture the river fortress and split the Confederacy in two, denying its supplies from the Far West.

The bluff upon which the city sits made Vicksburg nearly impossible to assault from the river. To the north, nearly impenetrable swamps and bayous protected the city. To the east, a ring of forts mounting 172 guns shielded the city from an overland assault. The land on the Louisiana side of the river, opposite Vicksburg, was rough, etched with poor roads and many streams.

After several failed attempts to assault the city, from December 1862 through April 1863, Grant settled on a bold plan to march his army down the west side of the Mississippi, cross the river south of Vicksburg, and attack the fortress from the south and the east. In late March, federal engineers undertook the arduous task of building roads and bridges through swamps in Louisiana, so that Grant could march his army south.

By late April, Grant’s army crossed the river south of Vicksburg, back into Mississippi. On May 14, 1863, Grant captured the Mississippi capital at Jackson and gained control of the railroad into Vicksburg, denying the Confederate defenders in the river fortress supplies or reinforcements.

The Federals then converged on Vicksburg and the trapped Confederate army. After two failed attempts to assault Vicksburg on May 19 and 22, Grant besieged the city. The Confederate Army, along with Vicksburg’s civilians, held out for six weeks, but on July 4, 1863, the Confederate commander, Lieutenant Commander John C. Pemberton surrendered his army and the city.

Major General in the Regular Army

Grant’s victory propelled him to new heights. Three days after Pemberton surrendered, Halleck wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “I respectfully recommend the following appointments: Major Gen Ulysses S. Grant. Vols. to be Major Genl in the U.S. Army, to date from July 4th, the capture of Vicksburg.” On the same day, Stanton approved Halleck’s recommendation, and Halleck telegraphed Grant, “It gives me great pleasure to inform you that you have been appointed a Major Genl in the Regular Army, to rank from July 4th, the date of your capture of Vicksburg.” On July 18, 1863, Grant wrote to Brigadier General Lorenzo Thomas, Adjutant General of the Army, “I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of notice of my appointment as Maj. General in the Army of the United States and my acceptance of the same.”

General Order Number 11

Although a great Union victory, the Vicksburg Campaign was not without some controversy for Grant. Exasperated by black-market trade between Northern merchants and Confederates, Grant issued his ill-conceived General Order Number 11, on December 17, 1862, expelling all Jews from the Department of the Tennessee. The order created such a protest throughout the North that President Lincoln rescinded it on January 4, 1863.

Also, that spring several Union generals engaged in a smear campaign, accusing Grant of being a drunkard. When Lincoln reviewed the allegations he purportedly said, “If it [drink] makes fighting men like Grant, then find out what he drinks, and send my other commanders a case!” Despite the humor, Lincoln took the allegations seriously enough to send Charles Anderson Dana to keep a watchful eye on Grant. It was during this time that Grant’s friend and adviser, John Aaron Rawlins, reportedly devoted himself to helping Grant maintain his sobriety.

Chattanooga Campaign

On October 16, 1863, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 337 merging the departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee under Grant’s command. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton directed Grant to move as soon as possible to Chattanooga, Tennessee to assist the Army of the Cumberland, which was under siege by General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Grant quickly ordered Major General William T. Sherman to transport the Army of the Tennessee from Mississippi to Chattanooga to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland. Grant himself arrived in Chattanooga on October 23, 1863, and took personal command of all forces within the city.

Upon his arrival, Grant set about establishing a new supply line into Chattanooga, known as the “Cracker Line.” The Cracker Line reduced the distance of the existing supply line into the city by half. On October 30, 1863, the first supplies began arriving in Chattanooga over the new route, and conditions within the city immediately improved.

While awaiting Sherman’s arrival, Grant began preparing for offensive operations to drive the Confederates away from Chattanooga and relieve the city. Sherman’s army began arriving at Chattanooga on November 20, and on November 23, the offensive moved into action. On November 23, about 14,000 federal soldiers left their defensive works and overran the 600 Confederate defenders of a hill between Chattanooga and Seminary Ridge, known as Orchard Knob. The Union soldiers fortified the hill, and Orchard Knob served as Grant’s headquarters for the rest of the breakout. The next day, about 10,000 Union forces under the command of Major General Joseph Hooker captured Lookout Mountain, a strategic position overlooking Chattanooga.

On November 25, a large-scale federal assault on Missionary Ridge forced Bragg to retreat into northern Georgia. The successful breakout ended the siege and gave the Union uncontested control of Chattanooga, the “Gateway to the Lower South.”

After lifting the siege at Chattanooga, Grant sent Sherman north to help end General James Longstreet’s siege of Major General Ambrose Burnside’s forces in Knoxville, Tennessee. Faced with Sherman’s advancing army, Longstreet withdrew from the Knoxville area on December 3 and 4, giving the Union complete control over Tennessee.

Lieutenant General in Command of U.S. Armies

On February 29, 1864, President Lincoln signed legislation restoring the rank of lieutenant general in the United States Army. The next day, Lincoln submitted Grant’s nomination, and Congress confirmed it on March 2. On March 3, Grant traveled to Washington to receive his commission. On March 10, Lincoln issued an executive order announcing

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, U.S. Army, is assigned to the command of the armies of the United States

On March 17, 1864, Grant issued General Orders, Number 12, taking command of the armies. Grant brought with him a reputation for the doggedness that Lincoln was seeking. Unlike previous Union generals, Grant was tenacious.

War in the East: the Overland Campaign

Upon his arrival in Washington, Grant drafted a plan to get the various Union armies in the field to act in concert. He also devised his Overland Campaign to invade east-central Virginia and destroy Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. Grant instructed General George Meade, who commanded the Army of the Potomac, “Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” Grant realized that with the superior resources he had at his disposal, Lee would lose a war of attrition, as long Grant persistently engaged him.

On May 4, 1864, Grant launched the Overland Campaign when the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers. Although Meade nominally commanded the Army of the Potomac, as General-in-Chief of the Armies, Grant accompanied the army in the field so he could supervise overall campaign operations.

Throughout the month of May, the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia slugged it out in a series of battles including the Wilderness (May 5-7), Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21), North Anna (May 23-26), Totopotomoy Creek (May 29-30) and Cold Harbor (May 31-June 12, 1864). Although the Confederates inflicted high casualties on the Federals during those battles, Grant continued his strategy of moving south and east to Lee’s right and then re-engaging the Confederate forces. Grant’s moves forced Lee to re-position his lines continually to defend Richmond.

The Overland Campaign was a strategic success for the North. By pounding at the Army of Northern Virginia, Grant hindered Southern efforts to send reinforcements to halt the scorched earth campaigns of Philip Sheridan in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and William T. Sherman in Georgia. In addition, although the Federals suffered higher casualties (39,000 to 31,500) than the South, the Confederacy could not replace their losses as readily as the North. Finally, Grant tied down the Army of Northern Virginia, limiting Lee’s options for the rest of the war.

Despite the strategic success of the Overland Campaign, it was not without its critics. High casualty rates and horrific battle conditions shocked war-weary Northerners. Some began referring to Grant as a butcher, whose strategy of winning by attrition exacted too high of a toll in human life. The mounting losses provided ammunition for Peace Democrats intent on defeating Lincoln in his reelection bid in 1864. Many critics fell silent by the autumn, however, as Grant’s strategy aided Sheridan’s and Sherman’s successful campaigns, thus securing the president’s re-election and enhancing prospects for restoring the Union.

Richmond Campaign and Surrender at Appomattox Court House

The battles of the Overland Campaign had forced Lee to leave Petersburg, Virginia—an important supply center near Richmond— unprotected. In early June 1864, Grant changed his strategy. Instead of pursuing the Army of Northern Virginia, Grant attacked Petersburg and cut off supplies to Lee’s army and the Confederate government in Richmond.

On June 15, 1864, Union forces overran Petersburg’s outer defenses. On June 16, the Federals renewed their attack, but Lee’s army reinforced the Confederate defenders on June 18. Unable to break through the Confederate defenses, Grant settled into a siege that lasted over nine months.

With his army weakened by desertions, disease, and hunger, Lee abandoned Petersburg and Richmond by late March 1865. On April 3, 1865, both cities surrendered to federal control. For the next few days, Grant pursued the Army of Northern Virginia until Lee capitulated at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865, marking the third time an entire Confederate army surrendered to Grant.

Grant’s terms of surrender were generous. None of Lee’s soldiers would be imprisoned or prosecuted for treason. In addition, Grant allowed Lee’s officers to keep their sidearms and personal baggage. Grant also allowed soldiers with horses or mules to take them home to help with the spring planting. Finally, Grant supplied rations for Lee’s starving army.

Lee’s surrender to Grant did not end the American Civil War, but it doomed the Confederacy. As news of the surrender spread, other Southern armies laid down their arms. By May 13, 1865, the fighting stopped, and the war was over.

Post-war Life

Following the Civil War, Grant remained in the United States Army. On July 25, 1866, Congress enacted legislation reviving the grade of General of the Army. On the same day, President Andrew Johnson appointed Grant to the post.

Grant also became involved in the conflicts between the United States Congress and the President. Johnson sought a lenient policy towards Southern states that had seceded from the Union, while a majority in Congress wanted a harsher approach. Congress repudiated Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction, but the president retaliated by firing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. By doing so, Johnson did not follow the recently passed Tenure of Office Act. That act stated that the president could not fire any officeholder that had received Senate approval before being hired until the Senate approved a successor. Johnson violated this act by firing Stanton and replacing him with Grant. Grant quickly resigned from the office, preferring to remove himself from the dispute.

President Grant

In 1868, the Democratic Party chose Horatio Seymour as its presidential candidate. Seymour, a former governor of New York, supported states’ rights and opposed equal rights for African Americans. The Republican Party selected Grant, a defender of equal opportunities for blacks and a supporter of a strong federal government. On Election Day, 53% of American voters selected Grant. He easily won the Electoral College vote, capturing twenty-six of the thirty-four states, to become the 18th President of the United States. Grant sought reelection in 1872 and easily won again, receiving fifty-six percent of the popular vote.

Political scandals marred Grant’s presidency. Several leaders and cabinet members engaged in corrupt activities. Grant remained above the controversy, but many Americans faulted him for his political appointments and his inability to control his cabinet.

In the South, the nation seemed far from healing its war wounds. Violence increased between whites and the African-American population. A growing number of Republicans lost their enthusiasm for Radical Reconstruction policies and encouraged Grant to withdraw federal troops from the South.

In 1873, an economic depression further alienated the American people from Grant. Thousands of businesses closed over the next five years, causing rampant unemployment. Because of Grant’s declining popularity, the Republican Party nominated Rutherford B. Hayes as president, even though Grant desired to seek a third term. Grant also sought the party’s candidacy in 1880, but the Republicans selected James Garfield instead.

See Gilded Age Politics for more on Grant’s Presidency.

Late Life

On May 17, 1877, Grant and his family embarked on a trip around the world that lasted over two and one-half years. During the trip, huge crowds in many countries wildly received and honored Grant. When he returned home in December 1879, Grant settled in New York City. At his son’s urging, Grant became a silent partner in the brokerage firm of Grant and Ward. In May 1884, he discovered that Ferdinand Ward had swindled him of his life savings and left him $150,000 in debt. Determined to repay his debts and provide for his family, Grant began writing articles about his military life for The Century Magazine during the summer. In November of the same year, doctors informed Grant that he had throat cancer.

Grant’s cancer diagnosis presented the general with one last test of the mettle that had served him so well in the Civil War. On February 27, 1885, Grant signed a contract with his friend Mark Twain to publish his memoirs. Sales of the work provided financial resources to support Grant’s family after his death.

On March 4, 1885, President Chester A. Arthur signed legislation to restore Grant to the rank of General of the Army, providing Grant’s family with a much-needed pension. Throughout the spring, Grant endured overwhelming pain as he dictated his memoirs. Incredibly, by May 23, 1885, the first volume of the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant went to press. By then, Grant could no longer speak.


In June, Grant moved to the cooler climate of Mount McGregor in eastern New York State. Wracked with pain, Grant used pencils to scribble the second volume of his memoirs on paper tablets for Frederick, his oldest son, and Adam Badeau, a former staff member, to transcribe. Grant completed the second volume on July 19, 1885. Four days later, he died, surrounded by his family. Grant’s memoirs became an immediate bestseller and ensured that Grant’s wife, Julia, would be financially secure for the rest of her life.

Grant’s family held funeral services at Mount McGregor on August 4, 1885. They then publicly displayed his coffin at Albany, New York, and the City Hall in New York City, before interring Grant’s remains in Riverside Park in New York. On April 27, 1891, workers broke ground for the construction of Grant’s Tomb. Officials dedicated the tomb on April 27, 1897, the 75th anniversary of Grant’s birthday.


Grant’s legacy remains mixed. To be sure, corruption and his poor judgment of character tarnished his presidency. Critics have made much about Grant’s struggles with alcohol, although there is no evidence that drinking had any detrimental effects on his combat performance. Some have even questioned Grant’s military leadership, suggesting that he succeeded on the battlefield because he enjoyed overwhelming advantages in men and materiel. Such assertions, however, diminish Grant’s inspired campaigns at Vicksburg and Chattanooga. They also overlook the fact that Grant succeeded where other Union generals who enjoyed the same advantages failed. Despite his personal aversion to blood and distaste for the savagery of battle, Grant’s doggedness and determination drove him to victories that eluded others, and eventually restored the Union.